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ISSUE 76 page 8

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Sites of interest
Sharing or sucking: opinion split as EU sets guidelines on ‘collaborative economy’
 ÜBER, AIRBNB, TASKRABBIT: THE NAMES OF THESE COMPANIES ARE becoming better and better known as they spread their operations from their Californian bases to any part of the world with Internet connectivity. The usual portmanteau term for what they do is the ‘sharing economy’ but this is a more hard-nosed commercial operation than lending your neighbour a power drill. Money changes hands, not only between buyer and seller but via a substantial cut to the the owner of the web-based ‘platform’ which makes these transactions possible. Their detractors say that these companies ‘basically suck value out of the local economy’ while, for instance, Über, which connects drivers with passengers in over 110 cities worldwide, claims to have created 50,000 jobs in Europe last year and plans to have one million new women drivers by 2020. This aim was undermined however when a proposed collaboration with the United Nations Women’s organisation was abandoned under pressure from trade unions and women’s rights groups. Brigitta Paas of the International Transport Workers Federation (ITF), said that the ‘promise of a million jobs that we know are likely to be insecure, ill paid, and potentially unsafe’ was no reason to co-operate with the company. Room sharing service Airbnb has also run into trouble with the authorities with Berlin city council banning the rental of entire properties and Iceland introducing new taxes on private owners that let their rooms for more than 90 days a year. The European Commission is trying to come up



with a unified approach to this fast-developing new economy including advice on how to apply existing EU law. Currently pending in the European Court of Justice is the question of whether Über is a transport company or a digital service as well as complaints by the firm against the governments of France, Germany and Spain. In a communication published in June the Commission took a somewhat friendly line towards the sharing companies. Vice-President Katainen, stressed that Member States should only use outright bans as a last resort and not impose specific rules for hotels or taxi services unless they own assets and set prices. ‘We want to keep up, and keep Europe as open as the US for new innovative business models’, he said. However he emphasised that these businesses should not form a ‘parallel informal economy … the collaborative economy cannot be a way to abuse labour. Neither is it a way to avoid paying tax’. According to the Commission national governments must distinguish between individuals providing services on an occasional basis and providers acting in a professional capacity. This was enough for Francis O’Grady, TUC General Secretary to see the bright side: ‘The EU guidelines are a good starting point because they make clear that sharing economy companies can be recognised as employers by member states’ she stated, the U.K. must ensure that ‘every worker in the sharing economy gets a fair deal, full employment rights, the opportunity to join a union, and is not exploited by a distant tax-dodging tech firm’.

An Über taxi and a Paris taxi drivers' protest



Web sites mentioned in this issue are available at:
 ‘What do Europeans do at work?’
 EU Collaborative Economy communication
 FairCrowdWork campaign
German unions target digital freelancers
DIGITISATION HAS LED TO ENORMOUS, CONTINUING changes in every area of the economy but the increasing use of self-employed freelancers poses a problem for traditional trade unions. They are not classed as employees and receive their income from fees rather than a wage. In Germany however unions have begun to wake up to the need to change their recruitment methods to access this potential source of new members. ‘Trade unions have tended to look askance at self-employment’ concedes Gunter Haake, the self-employed workers’ adviser at the German service workers’ union, Vereinte Dienstleistungsgewerkschaft (Ver.di). There are now 2.3 million self-employed workers in the country but only 30,000 are members of Ver.di. According to Herr Haake the practice is spreading from the cultural sector to IT and even caretaking. Industrial union IG Metall confirm that freelancing is becoming more common in their recruitment areas. Although their numbers are growing their income is not: the average is €1,500 per month but many receive less than the minimum wage, which does not apply to freelancers, of €8.50 per hour. Previously research has found that 18% of ‘solo’ workers get less than €5 an hour. ‘Crowdwork’ platforms tend to place workers in competition with each other as they offer their service for a fee, but as they are neither employees of the platform or the firm they are carrying out work for they are excluded from all labour legislation. IG Metall have launched a Faircrowdwork campaign to help freelancers compare fee rates and different Internet platforms, and access legal information. They also run a telephone help line ‘And we get a lot of calls’ says Robert Fuss, head of the campaign. In the longer term German unions want politicians to change the regulations governing this kind of work. Currently, German law does not allow self-employed workers to negotiate their pay collectively. ‘The politicians need to understand that the employment landscape is changing’ says Gunter Haake.

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